Then Jerico Interview: ‘I know I’m very lucky to be a functioning human being’
Then Jerico aren’t the most obvious name for an explosive tale of self-destructive anger, winding up Iggy Pop, rehab, shocking disability and heartwarming redemption. But singer Mark Shaw has lived one of the most remarkable stories in all of pop…
When Then Jerico appear in arenas soon as part of the Let’s Rock Retro Winter Tour, singer Mark Shaw and headliner Tony Hadley are guaranteed to talk about working together but never get around to it. “We’re both Geminis,” explains Mark. “It means we both jabber away, so we cancel each other out.” Shaw, it should be noted, can jabber away like very few pop stars Classic Pop has ever met. If the Looney Toons cartoons had ever created a pop star, he’d have been a lot like Then Jerico’s impossible all-action technicolour frontman.
An absolute hurricane and wonderful company, Mark talks about coming out of rehab before he’s even sat down for lunch at Pizza Express Dean Street, the Soho branch of the pizza chain which has recently begun hosting shows by Classic Pop-approved singers. Mark soon explains that, now he’s sober, he’s learned to channel the anger that once made him a volatile person to be around.
“I was never violent,” he emphasises, before admitting: “Well, except with the police. I didn’t like getting arrested.” He was arrested for… well, it’s a long story, involving a lost train ticket. And actually, the fact one of the most successful singers of the late 1980s got arrested proves one of the least interesting parts of Mark Shaw’s wild ride.
Most importantly, Mark’s doing great now, which hadn’t been the case for a while. Since 2004, Mark has been registered disabled after shattering both his heels in a horrible accident while performing at famed cabaret club Café de Paris in nearby Piccadilly. A wealthy punter in the club’s VIP section was throwing Champagne bottles around so Mark climbed up the speaker stacks to confront him. As the hooligan went to punch Mark, the speakers began to collapse. Jumping out of the way, Mark landed with his feet impaled on the steel ring of the sprung dancefloor. “I was drunk that night and it was typical of my stupid anger that I wanted to sort things out,” he says. “I hated the idea of being disabled, it made me really bitter. But it’s done me a lot of good – it made me give up drinking, and now I channel my anger. I’m a more positive person.”
Since February, 15 years later, Mark has been able to walk without a stick and has also given up the painkillers that he’d become addicted to. “I was off my face on those painkillers,” Mark admits. “It was very dangerous. I’ll walk with a limp for the rest of my life, and if you’re as vain as I am that’s hard! But I know now I’m very lucky to be a functioning human being.”
Mark has cause to be vain: if he wasn’t such a good guy, it’d be easy to hate him for how well he’s aged. At 58, he looks a decade younger, retaining the good looks that made him a pin-up during Then Jerico’s heyday when Big Area, The Motive and Sugar Box made them chart staples. But Mark was troubled throughout their success, stemming from an unsettled childhood. Born in Chesterfield, Mark’s father worked for Swan Hunter and Esso as the family moved to Nottingham, Newcastle and Sussex until, after his parents divorced, Mark lived with his mum in Croydon. “I consider myself a Geordie,” Mark ponders, his voice retaining a slight Newcastle twang. “But I went to 10 different schools, so I didn’t make many friends. I’ve always been a bit of a loner. My anger has always been in me, mainly being bitter that I didn’t get a better education.” Before becoming a singer, Mark wanted to be a stuntman and missed a total of two years of school after twice “getting smashed up on my bike – I was always breaking my arms.”
A face on the New Romantic scene as a regular at its clubs Billy’s and Blitz, Mark eventually started Then Jerico while working in the advertising department of music mag ZigZag. He was a fan of Bauhaus, Gang Of Four and The Stooges. “Then Jerico weren’t that kind of band,” Shaw admits. “When I was a kid, I thought that if you were successful, everybody would like you and it’d mean you’d proved something. The reality is, success exposed my shortcomings, because you always have more to prove.” He laughs ruefully, frustrated that Then Jerico didn’t quite live up to the artistic vision he had for them.
“Let’s be clear,” he smiles. “I liked me! But we were a naïve band. The songwriting was naïve. I never had any vocal lessons, or songwriting lessons, no music lessons of any kind. And that’s how a band should be. But Then Jerico’s songs… They’re not David Bowie songs, are they? I know that. They’re not what I wanted them to be. They’re not groundbreaking, dangerous or cutting-edge. I accept that, really, we were quite a safe band.” Aware of just how dismissive he’s sounding of his past, Mark rallies. “We were at least leftfield from the rest of the game at the time,” he says, pained at how safe the Top 40 had become by 1986. “But we were still effectively mainstream.”
Live, Then Jerico were – and still are in their current line-up – a different proposition. Mark is an animalistic frontman, more aligned to his influences. But Then Jerico had only played seven gigs when they were signed, so Mark was making it up as he went along on stage. “I had to do certain things to get myself in the zone,” he explains. “Mainly, it was alcohol and that’s when the drinking really started. I couldn’t go on stage as me, because I’m too silly and easy-going. I wanted my anger to come across, so I’d listen to music that makes me excited, like Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins. To get unhinged enough to face the crowds, I’d have a few vodkas.”
The band’s presence led to a tour supporting his idol Iggy Pop, only for Mark to accidentally offend the wild man of rock on the opening night. Iggy came backstage to tell Then Jerico to ask him if they ever needed anything. Mark’s response? “All I said was, ‘Is David coming down?’” he laughs. “I told Iggy: ‘I thought Bowie was your mate?’ Iggy said, ‘Yeah, he is, but he doesn’t have his glove up my fucking asshole like I’m his puppet! Who are you? Are you the fucking singer? What a wanker!’ And Iggy walked out muttering to himself.” Iggy still had the grace to watch Then Jerico on the tour every night, telling Mark at the end-of-tour party: “You’re a crazy motherfucker. You’re worse than I am!”
If Mark unintentionally insulted Iggy Pop, he was deliberately offensive to other bands in interviews, taking delight in mocking his 80s peers in Smash Hits. “I was always really horrible about Duran Duran,” he smiles. Hang on – didn’t Duran guitarist Andy Taylor produce your first solo album? “Yeah, he did,” laughs Mark. “And that was a lesson to follow Neil Tennant’s advice not to slag off other musicians in public, because you might meet them afterwards and end up liking them. When we met, Andy said, ‘Aren’t you that fucking wanker from Then Jerico?’”
After the band’s second album The Big Area reached No.4 in 1989, their record label London decreed they should each make solo albums. Mark recounts how the rest of the band soon gave up their solo projects and began writing a new Then Jerico album without him, with his blessing, only for Mark to learn that London were going to sack the rest of the band and hire new musicians. “I told London Records I couldn’t do Then Jerico without them,” he says. “They were my friends, we had a good creative understanding and, live, we really meshed.”
He engineered himself a new deal with EMI instead – but the rest of the band didn’t want to join him. “I found them a new singer – Marcus Myers from Hard Rain – and I thought everything was fine,” he sighs. “But they started slagging me off, saying I’d quit.” It wasn’t until 2013 that the original line-up reunited for a brief tour. “The reunion was only ever going to be short-lived,” says Mark. “I really like the guys, but none of them are professional musicians anymore.”
In the interim, the Andy Taylor-produced Almost flopped commercially in 1991, but was closer to how Mark had envisaged his music. The singer and producer had lived in the same apartment block in Wandsworth, South London. “It was called The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum,” says Mark. Well, of course that’s what the converted children’s home was called. Other residents included the Thompson Twins and Debbie Harry. Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt and ABC drummer Dave Palmer also played on Almost. “I’d found myself a bit lost before Andy came along,” Mark admits. “EMI didn’t like the LP I’d produced myself and I couldn’t take it to where they wanted to go. Andy’s such a groover, and there’s a real energy to how he plays guitar. He’d go, ‘Do it again!’ until I was knackered. He’d been what I was looking for for years. Made me wish I hadn’t slagged Duran off!”
Andy also worked on the long-delayed follow-up Orgasmaphobia, released in 1998, though this time he invited Mark to his new mansion in Shropshire. “Andy’s wife wasn’t happy that he was thinking of building a studio there,” he recalls. “She told me, ‘Everywhere we fucking go, he turns it into a studio. We’ve got three kids, but Andy has to have his bloody studio!’ I went back three months later and, sure enough, Andy had divided the building in half. We used the ballroom as a studio – to be fair, what an amazing sound.”
Mark is currently assembling an acoustic album – “I’d love suggestions for a title!” – and his enthusiasm for the Let’s Rock tour is palpable as he finishes off his American pizza. “I’ve got the perfect performing mix, because I love playing shows at small venues, as it really trains your voice,” he smiles. “It’s bare and it’s open playing in clubs, and you have room to experiment. At arenas, it’s so exacting that it’s exciting. If you get it wrong, 8,000 people see it. I’ve never sung at Wembley before and I’m dreaming about it every night.”
If Mark’s dreams are as grand as his personality, Wembley Arena might not be big enough to contain Then Jerico after all. It’ll give him and Tony Hadley plenty to talk about.